A poorer cousin of K-pop, the Korean indie scene is apparently not the place to make money, as the below article reports, arguing that even bands who have had some measure of success can rarely make ends meet. Some cite the amount of “idol” bands filling the charts in as the cause of this, whilst others point to the ‘mercenary’ nature of the Hongdae club scene.
Some netizens are saying the fans themselves are to blame for not spending enough on their favourite artists, others argue its just the bands that need to raise their own profiles, and the rest say it’s the Chaebols that have spoilt the music scene for new bands.
It is worth noting that in Korean that the use of the word “indie” does not refer to a specific genre in the way it might to our English-speaking readers. It is used here to refer to Korean punk acts of renown like Crying Nut and No Brain, as well as more commercial pop-rock artists like CNBLUE.
‘Almost No Bands Make A Living Through Music.’
‘1 million won a month is practically nothing. Music is my dream but as you get older, it gets harder to stand.’ A (38), runs a bar in at Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, in Seoul. He was, 3 months ago, a guitarist in an active and successful indie band, that once topped the indie charts, and made their way into the public eye by writing music for dramas. However, despite being ‘on a roll’ they never earnt more than a million won a month. ‘In the indie world establishing yourself financially is not easy even if you have a following. There are nearly no bands making enough to get by through music.’ The members of A’s band have moved on to managing cafes, bars and schools, or just drifting between different jobs. But, this is not to say he’s given up music, he dreams of rekindling his love for music once he has raised enough money.
Of the roughly 500 bands native to the Hongdae club scene, there are only around 10, including Crying Nut, No Brain and Nell(Pictured, L-R), who are able to make a living. Many have pointed out that in order to help diversify Korean music, indie bands would have to have been able to perform steadily for 20-30 years.
There are currently around 500 bands native to the Hongdae area, and this estimate is separate from the one given by the Record Label Industry Association of Korea. Of the roughly 100 bands playing this year’s rock festivals, the bands able to make a living amounts to less than 10, and they tend to be well known acts such as Crying Nut, No Brain and Nell
In the year 2000, rookie indie bands made their way into the public eye, and began to be paid on a monthly basis. Popularity was rewarded with the assurance of Korean releases, and pay was around a million won each. These despotic ‘slave contracts’ are greatly praised amongst business circles.
The number of indie bands playing at rock festivals who are capable of earning the minimum cost of living (in 2012 around 55 million won) is estimated to be around 100. This is because, outside of business events, there is no real profit to be found from rock festivals. Album sales are only a publicity issue and, the truth is, the sales market has sort of died, with digital recording sales returning a mere 5% to each singer.
According to high-ranking fan club members, we are fast approaching the ‘free stage’. More than ten venues, such as Club FF, Evans, Hauter, Jammers, Spat, Ta, Drug, GoGoS2, and others, are holding animated concerts in the Hongdae area, but the earnings from these events are extremely poor. Most clubs will only start paying the artists money from the admission fee if the audience has more than 10 people. The effect of this is a B-list band getting 12 people to come would then have to split the profit from those two people 5 ways. So it is common for bands to be playing a venue that’s getting 2-3 million won without receiving a penny.
Korean indie music agencies have said ‘Clubs are looking for an audience of 5-30 people on weekdays and 70-100 on the weekend, this is not easy and every club has the same requirements.’ adding ‘Club management won’t see profit from ticket sales and whilst they make a little money on selling booze, recently the sums haven’t added up at closing time.’
In their late 30s the young artists who determined to ‘make a living with music they like’ will start working in bars or cafes, teaching at schools, working as private tutors, or any job which will help them avoid joining the ranks of office workers.
An indie agency representative has pointed out ‘People may have formed programmes like EBS’s Hello Rookie, KBS Top Band, and KOCCA’s K-rookies, but there’s no real public interest. In order to help diversify Korean music, indie bands would have to have been able to perform steadily for 20-30 years.’
Cultural Critic Jeong Teokhyeon has said ‘The world of indie plays an important role in nourishing Korean music.’ and ‘This market needs help if it is to develop. Band must be increasingly and regularly invited on shows such as ‘I’m a singer’(KBS) and ‘Immortal Classic’(MBC)’
Comments from Naver:
I’ve witnessed Infinite Challenge’s situation… they beg…. even though their albums sell well, it moved me.
No mistake can be made when reading this atricle in full.
Because Chaebols are so absorbed with wealth, they have monopolised the world of music.. Shows like SM’s Junior Idol decide what we hear, and it doesn’t change, so we never hear anything good… Honestly, although indie music may be good, and have a lot of good songs, because there are so few releases the situation is not ideal.
Indie music must live. We can’t buy hook songs and idol music anymore.
A great deal of the Hongdae bands come from the music schools, but playing classical instruments and graduating a music school do not mean you can make a living, so many of them are lucky to be able to give private lessons at local music schools, so they certainly aren’t in bands, but it would be good is they could blow a wind of change into the music industry through this.
When MBC tried to save indie bands it seemed like a bit of an obstacle, so it would be sensible for if now anyone up and coming to get a good kick.
Honestly bands like FT Island and CNBLUE say things like indie bands. Apologising to their fans amounts to nothing more than words, and bands can’t honestly acknowledge every single person who likes their music. Anyway, I’ve found that simply connecting unnecessary instruments to drum beats in 4/4, or else 8/8 has become a repetitive exacting lance. Truthfully, it’s because of Wang Biho that FT Island has begun to become a husk. Since Buzz, although a lot of these concerts take place, 90% of the live performances are pre-digested idol-esque artists, and, since then, they look like they’re just puppets pretending to be something they’re not.
Even the quality of idol artists has begun to drop these days… It’d be great if they’d shine the light on some good indie band by getting them to perform on prime time music shows.The bands appearing on air are fakes like FT or CNBLUE … It sucks.
There’s a lot of people angry on behalf of indie like this… Why aren’t their albums being sold? Because self-declared fans haven’t spent their money on them… We confidently cuss the idol bands without refusing to go to their concerts and whilst still spending money on them. People actually concerned about Korean music aren’t spending money on it.. isn’t it a joke?
Isn’t Idol a horrible thing.. A ssibal overflow by the way.. How about some bands hire agencies to make them look better and raise their profiles?
These comments are ridiculous. What’s the logic behind not being able to earn money through doing something, whilst not caring about earning money? Whether you do what you like or not, you should do your job. You shouldn’t base your dreams on Korean resentments. Giving up part of your dreams in the face of reality is your personal choice, but musicians are crying out nonetheless, and they are legitimately paying the world back through their music.
Nam Chin once played bass.. He gave up and now it’s getting heated… He was working hard on his band … He moved toward session work to earn his living.. It’s hard to make a living through music in this country..
Guckkasten really aren’t as good a band as Nell so can’t earn money like them. If they want to be independent artists, how can they make money? To earn money like Buzz they’d have to give up releasing the music they like;”
Aren’t these programmes trying to help something that can’t be helped??? So these music markets will remain small.
Comments from Twitter (Via Daum):
Segye’s article “Almost No Bands Make Living Through Music” is right. It’s horrible! Reading the comments is upsetting me. Why do they think it’s not ok to dream of making money through music? Why’s it so dirty to make money through art?
These bands make good music so this article, ‘Almost No Bands Make Living Through Music,’ is especially upsetting for me
Comments from Twitter:
@rootandbranch87 I thought it’d be exciting to post Noel Gallagher’s tweeted comments but…
Comments from Daum :
There are now 500 bands native to Hongdae, and this estimate is separate from the one given by the Record Label Industry Association of Korea. Of these, only 100 have received enough attention to play rock festivals.. Earning a living looks difficult, but everyone seems to be keeping their spirits up!
This was a good article, I enjoyed reading it.This vortex of inter-related disposable artists leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
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